June 22nd, marked the twenty year anniversary of the release of Liz Phair’s explosive debut album Exile in Guyville. Let’s celebrate by remembering what a compilation it was in its most natural state, a record that not only helped launch other female rockers, but without a doubt left an impression on many young women growing up during that time. It was a record that was searing in honesty with explicit lyrics about all things complicated when it comes to relationships, or more to the point sex minus the relationship.
Phair has gone on record to say that most of the songs are not from her own perspective, but from the point of view of her female friends, you can choose to believe that; I think differently. The songs are way too expressive and real to all be the result of idle chit chat amongst girlfriends. The title of the record alone is Phair’s interpretation of what a typical guy was in her small town upbringing; saying “This kind of mentality, you know, where men are men and women are learning. Guys always dominated the stereo like it was their music, they’d talk about it, and I would just sit on the sidelines.” It’s no wonder Phair was busting at the seams in song, which resulted in 18 very divulging tracks.
Exile in Guyville literally captures Phair – in time — at her absolute best. The record takes you through many different emotions, from loneliness to feelings of empowerment to insecurity. Phair’s soft but edgy vocals complimented her girl next door look. And her guitar skills were no joke, being the major element in most of the songs; simple, jagged guitar riffs that underlined her voice perfectly.
During the recording on one of the more blunt tracks, “Fuck and Run,” is when Phair realized with producer, Brad Wood, that they were on to something. The recording process itself was interesting, since Phair had no real band, Wood along with engineer Casey Rice laid down whatever parts were needed, separately. In the track Phair sings “And I can feel it in my bones / I’m gonna spend my whole life alone / It’s fuck and run.” The song is a diary of bad decisions or rather decisions that leave a feeling of some regret.
Phair’s style of singing was very conversational which drew you in. In Guyville‘s opening track “6’1,” she sings ever so casually “It’s cold and rough / And I kept standing six feet one / Instead of five feet two /And I loved my life and I hated you.” I certainly wanted to hear more. The albums first single was “Never Said,” and the video was played often on MTV, which depicted Phair with her guitar in various surroundings; in a lake, in the forest, on some rocks.
There’s a sense that as a woman in a male dominating, rock music industry that Phair must have had her share of interactions with a few chauvinistic characters. Phair has expressed, in response to the success of Guyville, that she just wanted people who thought she was not worth talking to, to listen. I think of that when I listen to “Canary.” The song features a beautiful and simple melody by piano and Phair reciting a daily routine of sorts.
It’s difficult to highlight a hand full of songs from Guyville, because they all standout. A lot of the tracks were featured on Phair’s original home recording Girly Sound, like “Girls, Girls, Girls.” The song sounds like a theme to a suspenseful movie, a lower, but definite rhythm of the guitar, Phair’s soft vocals and lyrics “I get away almost every day / With what the girls call / What the girls call / What the girls call / The girls call murder.” Phair has a gift for honest and intense lyrics that transition into witty catchphrases. In “Divorce Song,” Phair sings: “It’s harder to be friends than lovers, and you shouldn’t try to mix the two,” which follows with “And it’s true that I stole your lighter.”
There’s as much vulnerable Liz Phair in Guyville as girl power, and most of it is direct and to the point, evident in the song “Flower.” So it just depends on what Liz you’re in the mood for that’ll lead you to the song or songs you’ll play on repeat for an hour or two. I’m certainly glad I had this record around when I needed it.
By Sabrina Tosti